Book Review: The Heartless City

The Heartless City
Published by: Curiosity Quills Press
Publication Date: 17 August 2015
Page Count: 241 
Buy it at Amazon or Barnes and Noble
Source: e-book provided by author
Audience - Young Adult - Historical Fantasy

Have you ever considered what Victorian London would be like if the unthinkable happened, if a virus were to sweep through the streets, infecting the population, and causing a city-wide quarantine? Of course not, it's not something an average person would consider, and historically, it didn't happen. But what if it had?  Andrea Berthot puts a whole new twist on the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde story in her book, The Heartless City.

The story opens up with a woman sneaking into a quarantined London in 1890 with her 3-year old daughter.  She is there to find a cure for the plague that has swept through the city.  Dr. Jekyll created a drug that changes people forever, cursing them to become violent killers known as Hydes.  13 years later, there is still no cure and the city is at a stand-still, not growing or moving forward under the leadership of the Lord Mayor, an evil, power-hungry man.  Elliot, who lives at Buckingham Palace along with most of the rich people left in the city (Queen Victoria and the royal family left before the quarantine was in place) is best friends with the Lord Mayor's son, Cambrian.  Elliot and Cam, along with their friends Andrew and Philomena, are always trying to find new things to entertain themselves in their static, crumbling city.  But Elliot has a secret, he is an empath.  He can feel the emotions of everyone around him like they were his own.  Then one night they meet Iris, and their lives change forever.  Iris is not like anyone Elliot has ever known, her emotions not crippling him as everyone else's do, but Iris has secrets of her own.  Soon, Elliot, Iris, and their friends are racing to save not just their own lives, but those of everyone else in the city.

I absolutely loved this book!  I read almost the whole thing in one sitting.  The story and the characters were so alive, you couldn't help but be drawn in.  Berthot has such a creative imagination, spinning a whole new tale from that of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  I love how she puts a modern twist on it, making the drug Hyde took, one that everyone is taking like meth or cocaine, only with much deadlier consequences.

The story had me hooked from the synopsis.  I love re-tellings of classics, twists on popular stories we all know and love.  And once I started reading, I couldn't stop.  Though the actual Dr. Jekyll wasn't in the story, the effects and consequences of his actions are obvious and pronounced throughout the entire story.  In ways, they make the city of London more alive, yet dead at the same time.  Making a city active with horror and death; creating and evil that is far worse than the drug itself.  It was such a compelling read, seeing how one incident created such corruption, greed, and violence.  I think Robert Louis Stevenson would be proud of Andrea Berthot's way of honoring his classic novella.

The characters are all so well rounded.  The group of friends are each strong on their own, I could see stand-alone stories on each one; they each have their own story to tell.   As the reader, you can feel the love and the hatred and despair that Elliot and his friends all share, seeing most of them through Elliot's eyes or more accurately, feeling these emotions through Elliot.  What would it be like to be able to feel what everyone else is feeling?  To experience those emotions, the good and the bad, the strong and the weak?  Would you or I be able to handle them any better than Elliot did?  Elliot felt weak under the onslaught of the emotions swirling through him from others, but, to me, he was much stronger than he gave himself credit for and he needed Iris to show him that he wasn't cursed and he could survive it.  I love how each friend, not just Elliot and Iris, each had something to give to the others.  They all took strength from each other in different ways, and it created an unbreakable bond. Berthot was able to express this through her words and it made the book that much more enjoyable to read.

The story is beautifully written with an eloquent hand.  It's never too slow or fast, it doesn't skip around or try to confuse.  It can be humorous at times, sweet and dark as well.  The pacing is perfect and it had just enough suspense to keep me on the edge of my seat.  I was saddened when the book ended because I fell in love with the characters and the story and wanted to continue reading on, see what other adventures they find themselves involved in.  I haven't been this excited about a story in a while and it didn't disappoint.

The Heartless City is not just a story of horror and death.  It's also a love story, a story of hope.  A bond is created between Elliot and Iris, so powerful they can't ignore it, no matter how hard they try. Through this bond, they realize that all is not lost, maybe there is still time to find a cure for the city and save what they have.  I love the hope and love that Berthot brings to an otherwise dark story.  She has created a forever fan in me and I look forward to reading the stories that follow The Heartless City.

Favorite Thing about This Book: I love how the author made the Jekyll and Hyde tale her own.  She took a classic favorite and weaved in a whole new story.

First Sentence: Virginia shivered, but didn't dare reach up to gather her damp, wool cloak around her throat.

Favorite Character: Iris

Least Favorite Character: Harlan Branch

Henry Jekyll was a brilliant doctor, a passionate idealist who aimed to free mankind of selfishness and vice. He’s also the man who carelessly created a race of monsters.

Once shared secretly among the good doctor's inner circle, the Hyde drug was smuggled into mass-production - but in pill form, it corrupted its users at the genetic level, leaving them liable to transform without warning. A quarter of the population are now clandestine killers – ticking bombs that could detonate at any given moment.

It's 1903, and London has been quarantined for thirteen years.

Son of the city's most prominent physician and cure-seeker, seventeen-year-old Elliot Morrissey has had his own devastating brush with science, downing a potion meant to remove his human weaknesses and strengthen him against the Hydes - and finding instead he's become an empath, leveled by the emotions of a dying city.

He finds an unlikely ally in Iris Faye, a waitress at one of the city's rowdier music halls, whose emotions nearly blind him; her fearlessness is a beacon in a city rife with terror. Iris, however, is more than what she seems, and reveals a mission to bring down the establishment that has crippled the people of London.

Together, they aim to discover who's really pulling the strings in Jekyll's wake, and why citizens are waking up in the street infected, with no memory of ever having taken the Hyde drug...

Heart-eating monsters, it turns out, are not the greatest evil they must face.